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Sara Hughes, Kelley Kolinske use third set comeback to claim first Manhattan Beach Open crown

MANHATTAN BEACH — The whole week ahead of the Manhattan Beach Open, Kelley Kolinske’s husband posted 20 signs in their condominium that read: “Kolinskes are going on the pier: Manhattan Beach Open champions.”

Every time Kolinske walked past one of the signs, as she did Sunday morning, she would slap it.

“I’m like, today’s the day,” Kolinske said.

Turns out manifesting a first win at the mecca of beach volleyball can work sometimes.

But not even Kolinske and her partner, Sara Hughes, could have predicted the way they won their first AVP event as a duo, etching their names on the Walk of Fame along the Manhattan Beach Pier: A three-set thriller against Kelly Cheng and Betsy Flint that featured a five-point rally when they were down 13-10 in the third set.

Hughes delivered a kill and then an ace that trickled off the net to pull even. A block by Kolinske gave them the lead, and then on match point, a spike by Flint went long.

With that, Hughes sprinted over to tackle Kolinske. After their embrace, she jumped in the air again, the excitement pouring through her. Hughes had volunteered at the Manhattan Beach Open as a kid. It all came full circle.

“It feels absolutely incredible,” Hughes said. “Kelley and I have been down before in matches. And we were like to each other: ‘We’ve been here before. Let’s not give up. Keep fighting.’ And that’s exactly what we did.”

It was the fifth career AVP win for Hughes and the fourth for Kolinske.

Hughes and Kolinske eked out a close first set 21-18, but Cheng and Flint used a 10-1 run to dominate the second set, 21-11.

“The third set’s always a completely different set than the other two,” Kolinske said. “We knew we had to come out aggressive and make big plays at important times. I think we did that at the end. We made some huge plays when it mattered most.”

Trailing 13-10, Kolinske thought that she and Hughes just needed to get one point.

“People get a little tight,” Kolinske said. “If we can make one defensive play, we’re in this and I know we can do it.”

The final featured two pairs of former partners on opposite sides — Hughes and Cheng, and Flint and Kolinski were pairings that both last teamed up in 2017.

The final was also a rematch of the round four match earlier in the tournament.Flint and Cheng beat Hughes and Kolinske in straight sets on Saturday, forcing the latter duo to win a match in the contender’s bracket Sunday over Megan Kraft and Emily Stockman to advance to the semifinals.

The extra match wasn’t an issue for Hughes and Kolinske, who rolled past the top-seeded Terese Cannon and Sarah Sponcil in straight sets, 21-19, 21-18, to advance to the finals.

Flint and Cheng dispatched Zana Muno and Brandie Wilkerson in straight sets in the semifinals,  21-17, 22-20, rolling into the finals having lost just one set all tournament.

But Hughes and Kolinske got their revenge in the finals.

More people in the capacity crowd at Stadium Court appeared to be backing Hughes and Kolinske than Flint and Cheng. And the duo took advantage, feeding off the fans who gave them the momentum and energy they needed, according to Kolinske.

“It’s the most iconic, most historic tournament,” Kolinske said. “So getting our name on the pier, stamped on there forever is pretty special.”

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